Cities Built for Everyone: Innovations in Urban Accessibility
These days, our cities are smarter than ever—but they’re still works in progress. With estimates suggesting that 15% of the world’s population live with disabilities (upwards of one billion people), redesigning our urban environments to be as welcoming as possible has never been more important.
That’s why we’re celebrating the innovations that are making cities more accessible. From clever apps and crowdsourced resources to revamped public transit and cultural programming, our urban spaces are best when they can be shared by all.
Urban transit innovations, like NYC’s “Taxi of Tomorrow,” expand city access—and convenience—to everyone. Image courtesy of Nissan.
For city dwellers with disabilities, getting around town can be a tricky undertaking—and one that isn’t helped by outdated public transit infrastructure.
But a number of cities are stepping up and making accessibility a priority. In Seattle, accessible buses and light rail lines allow people who use wheelchairs to travel seamlessly across the network, while Portland’s LIFT paratransit serviceoffers an essential shared-ride public transportation service for riders who are less mobile.
Taxis are also going along for the ride. Chicago plans to double its fleet of wheelchair-accessible taxis by 2018, and NYC’s “Taxi of Tomorrow” is wheelchair-friendly and comes equipped with induction loop technology—which magnetically transmits sound to hearing aids and cochlear implants. After all, being able to get around town is the right of every urbanite.
There’s nothing pedestrian about simple—yet transformative—features, like Sydney’s Braille street signs. Image courtesy of City of Sydney.
But accessibility isn’t just the domain of mass transit, and cities are working to make sidewalks and other shared spaces easier to navigate, too. Sydney, Australia is currently rolling out a network of Braille street signsaccompanied by information pylons and digital technology—making it simpler for residents who are vision-impaired to navigate the city streets.
In Toronto, the StopGap Foundation has worked with its Community Ramp Project to make a number of businesses accessible for locals who are less mobile. With its range of brightly painted ramps that are easily seen, the organization has raised awareness and access in one fell swoop.
And in the Twin Cities, they’re making public spaces more accessible for children, too. The Madison’s Place Universal Access Playground specializes in adaptive play, providing 16,000 square feet of swings, ramps, and sensory play equipment for every child.
Cultural institutions, like MoMa and The Met, offer workshops and tours designed to engage people of all abilities. Image courtesy of Filip Wolak.
A key part of building accessible cities is making cultural institutions available to everyone. In New York, MoMA offers free programs, including guided touch tours and art-making workshops for visitors with disabilities. And The Metropolitan Museum of Art offers a monthly Seeing Through Drawing class for visitors who are blind or partially sighted, using a range of materials and verbal descriptions for creative inspiration.
Then there’s Frankfurt, which has also taken a creative approach to accessible tourism. Not only does the city host guided tours for travelers with disabilities, it also offers up landmarks like the Frankfurt Sensory Garden, which focuses on scent and touch.
APPS AND PERSONAL GEAR
From social connection to real world direction, smart apps and gear make accessing the rich urban world around us easier for all. Image courtesy of Basti Hansen.
In cities, improving accessibility means investing in technology that can keep users with disabilities plugged in. Sesame is one genius example: the hands-free smartphone is controlled by head movements, and gives users new freedom to reach out to friends, download apps, and otherwise take advantage of all the tools a smartphone offers.
Beyond phones, other apps and crowdsourced services are making city life simpler. Both the crowd-sourced Wheelmap and Jaccede (the latter of which was a winner of the Google Impact Challenge) map thousands of locations in cities around the world and grade them on their wheelchair accessibility.
Then there are apps like Assist-Mi, which offers real-time support for users with disabilities. Using location-based technology and two-way messaging, the app offers short notice cab bookings and other support features.
The lesson? Accessible cities are truly the wave of the future—and we look forward to seeing a new stream of technology, services, and other advances designed to open up our urban centers.